Nancy Pelosi will visit Taiwan, reports say, as China vows ‘strong measures’ in response
- ‘There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing US policy into some sort of crisis,’ says US national security spokesman
- The US speaker of the House is expected to meet with Taiwanese officials including president, Tsai Ing-wen, according to Bloomberg
China said on Monday that it would take “firm and strong measures” in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s expected arrival in Taiwan, as a war of words over the latest flashpoint in US-China relations escalated.
Beijing’s representative to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, spoke shortly after the White House appeared to shift its stance towards Pelosi’s reported trip to Taiwan, saying that the US will “not be intimidated” by China.
“This visit is provocative, and if [Pelosi] insists on making it then China will take firm and strong measures to safeguard our national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Zhang said. “We allow no one to cross this red line.”
Pelosi is expected to spend the night on the island, CNN quoted an unnamed senior Taiwanese official as saying, and Bloomberg reported that she is scheduled to meet with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, on Wednesday.
While the White House has previously issued warnings about the speaker’s visit – with President Joe Biden saying two weeks ago that the US military did not think it was a good idea – White House national security spokesman John Kirby’s comments on Monday afternoon showed a change of tone about the trip.
“We will not take the bait or engage in sabre-rattling,” Kirby said. “At the same time, we will not be intimidated.”
“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing US policy into some sort of crisis,” Kirby added.
He reiterated that the trip was not an effort to threaten China or an indicator of a change in the United States’ one-China policy regarding Taiwan.
“Nothing about this potential visit – which by the way has precedent – would change the status quo,” he said, noting that adherence to existing policy was discussed during last week’s phone call between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“It is not uncommon for congressional leaders to travel to Taiwan,” he told CNN earlier on Monday, adding that the visit “is very much in keeping with our policy and is consistent with our support for Taiwan”.
Speaking at the United Nations, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that if “China tries to create some kind of crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing”.
“We do not know what Speaker Pelosi intends to do, but … that is entirely her decision, and one that we respect one way or the other,” he added.
The show of unity comes after others expressed concern that the trip posed more risk than reward, a sentiment echoed by Yawei Liu, who directs the China programme at the Atlanta-based Carter Centre.
Chinese leaders want to avoid perceptions of making empty threats, particularly regarding Taiwan, he said.
“They think: we’ll have to do something meaningful so that it doesn’t give the impression that we are a paper tiger,” Liu said. “This is in nobody’s interest, and we are now sleepwalking into a confrontation whose consequence is very hard to predict.”
Bonnie Glaser, who directs the German Marshall Fund’s Asia programme, said Taiwan would likely bear the brunt of such consequences.
“The probability that the PRC will take a series of military, economic, and diplomatic actions to show strength & resolve is not insignificant,” Glaser said on Twitter. “Likely it will seek to punish Taiwan in myriad ways.”
She added, however, that “the probability of war or a serious incident is low”.
On Sunday, Pelosi confirmed her travel to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, and she and her congressional delegation arrived in Singapore the next day, meeting with President Halimah Yacob and other senior officials.
Since the enactment of the 2018 Taiwan Travel Act, there have been more than 20 trips to the self-ruled island by US officials. While members of Congress have travelled to Taiwan as recently as May, Pelosi’s visit would be the first by a sitting House speaker since Newt Gingrich in 1997.
The speaker of the US House is second in line to the presidency, after the vice-president.
China has threatened “resolute and forceful measures”, extending to military action, and according to the Pentagon has sent aircraft and naval vessels to the area around the island.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reiterated on Monday that China was “standing by” and would “take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
A video posted to the People’s Liberation Army WeChat site on Monday vowed to “bury all incoming enemies” and raised concerns that Chinese might respond with force.
China announced that it had conducted a live-fire exercise in the Taiwan Strait last week, and Kirby said on Monday that the mainland appeared to be positioning itself to take steps that could include firing missiles in the strait, making a large-scale air entry into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone and other military actions that would break with historical norms.
Additional reporting by Kinling Lo in Washington